THE IMAGE of a student running around in a t-shirt with the logo of Trenčín University, which has made it to the yearbook of academic scandals after granting fast-tracked diplomas to several students, would be quite a joke. Students worldwide are wearing shirts and caps with logos of prestigious schools even if they are not personally associated with that particular alma mater. There is an element of pride involved in one’s university education – which is certainly more than just an outcome of a good business model, branding or university PR.
It’s hard to imagine that Slovak universities will soon, if ever, attract the best students of the region en masse – young people who would gladly take a loan in order to study in Bratislava, Košice or Banská Bystrica. Part of the lack of diversity at Slovak universities could be attributed to a language barrier, since there are still not many courses offered in English – so foreign students make up only about 2 percent of all university students in Slovakia. But part of it might also be that most Slovak universities are not making much of an effort to grow into international hubs of progressive education and they contentedly compare themselves with each other instead of enlisting in international competition for excellence.
Head hunters often say that in their search for the best candidate for a high-level position it is really not the graduate school of a candidate that they would first consider unless the candidate holds a diploma from a prestigious international school or they are searching for a very specific technical position.
From a recent survey among leading human resource professionals, The Slovak Spectator reported in its Career Guide that an academic title from a Slovak university is really not an indicator of a person’s job suitability. Some of the HR experts said directly that Slovak universities are not working hard enough to become scholarly centres of excellence.
Recent developments are not reassuring that the trend of devalued academic titles will be reversed soon. The case of Trenčín University and its peculiar rector – who after resigning from his post plans to return as dean of the Faculty of Socio-Economic Relations, the faculty which in fact granted the express diplomas that started the whole turmoil – is certainly not the greatest problem in Slovakia’s academia.
There had been some high hopes attached to the country’s comprehensive accreditation process in which 27 higher education institutions would go through close scrutiny. But the intensively discussed process, which was expected to divide the universities into three categories, has seemingly just caused a great deal of controversy. Some observers suggest that the whole process was done in too much haste while others say that instead of evaluating a university as a whole, the accreditation committee should have examined particular faculties or departments since there are both strong and weak faculties within one school. And the main concern among many experts is that the whole accreditation festivity won’t have much effect on the real quality of the schools or the knowledge imparted to their students.
Education Minister Ján Mikolaj's conduct in the case of St. Elisabeth University, a private school, has also caused many sleepless night to those who have advocated a fair approach to all the schools. Critics say Mikolaj interfered in the accreditation process of this particular school in a rather disreputable way. The school has already filed a lawsuit against the ministry claiming that Mikolaj failed to challenge the 2008 decision of the previous Accreditation Commission awarding university status, the highest possible level, within the required time period. Mikolaj then ordered repeated audits of the school, which now faces the fate of being dropped to the lowest level, to the category of a technical college.
The accreditation committee reportedly found that the school did not meet the criterion of having a sufficient number of professors for its students. However, it was Mikolaj who did not pass the school’s nominations for 12 additional professors on to the country’s president, who then appoints the professors, but rather sent it back to the school saying the ministry needed more details. Even Slovakia’s prosecutor general found Mikolaj’s conduct rather unusual and asked him to stop hindering the timely nomination of professors.
Some Slovak rectors have also been critical of the legislative proposal by MP Mojmír Mamojka from the ruling Smer party to change some of the accreditation rules now after 20 schools have already passed through the process. Some charge that Mamojka has a personal conflict of interest as he serves as the dean of a faculty of law at a private university.
Politicians sometimes decide that something must be done about what they call a ‘problem’ or an ‘issue’ when they have something personal at stake. Tampering with academia while being driven by something other than purely scrupulous intentions would exact a rather malicious retribution on Slovak society and its future generations.
22. Feb 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová